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Changes

By Rune Dancer

       

Haldir decided it was not surprising that, considering how the rest of his visit to Imladris had gone, his one chance at true revenge should be screwed up as well. Virtually the whole house slept, but when he and Gildor arrived at the baths, a cheerful Elladan greeted them and proceeded to chat unrelentingly with an equally happy Gildor until Haldir thought his head would burst. His planned seduction/torment session for his companion was by necessity aborted, and his mood was truly black by the time he once more reached his rooms. Throwing clothing and personal items into saddlebags, Haldir tried to slam his way out of his chamber, but the heavy wooden door refused to oblige, closing with a refined click as always. He would have liked to take an axe to it, but there wasn't one handy and he refused to stay in this torture chamber long enough to find one. Bad head or no, he would ride for calm, beautiful, sane Lorien this morn if all the orcs in Middle Earth stood in the way. Elbereth, but he HATED Imladris!

Naturally, his horse was unavailable, having thrown a shoe the previous day that had yet to be replaced. So he ended up with a far inferior creature on loan until his could be sent on. The stable master offered to shoe his mount sometime that day if he wished to wait, but Haldir flatly refused. Riding out into the morning, which had dawned fair and clear, it was with no surprise at all that he saw storm clouds gathering on the horizon, clouds which proceeded to make straight for him as he approached Imladris' borders. Haldir knew he should turn back and wait for a more auspicious day for his journey; his horse certainly thought so, bucking and rearing at the first slash of lightening across the sky in a way his own mount never would have done. Haldir kept his seat, however, and turned the beast's nose resolutely into the coming storm. There was not enough mithril in Middle Earth to make him stay one more day under Elrond's roof.

As he approached Imladris' border, the trees began whipping fiercely in the sudden storm, and the sky grew increasingly black, with menacing grey/green clouds that rumbled almost continually and were lit only with deadly silver streaks. A particularly close crack of thunder caused his cowardly horse to rear once more just as he was about to clear the tree-line, and Haldir was still trying to bring it under control when a blinding flash nearby sent a heavy limb crashing down on the animal's back and knocked him from the saddle. His horse reared over him, blinded by the rain and its own panic, then a hoof caught him a glancing blow and he knew no more.

       

Glorfindel watched Galadriel's party approach with a feeling of incipient disaster. The fact that she looked as serene as always, impeccably gowned in a dress of the finest white lace and surrounded by an impressive number of Lorien's best Galadrim, did little to reassure him; he had the feeling that she would have that same expression if ordering dinner or an execution. That her party was backlit by an ominous greenish light from the approaching tempest lent it something of a portentous quality, and seemed somehow appropriate. Thunder boomed overhead as he hurried down the main steps to assist the Lady to dismount her impressive white stallion. He thought it rather a large horse for such a petite elf, but Galadriel apparently had no trouble controlling it.

"My Lady, Lorien's loss of its fairest light is Imladris' great gain. How good it is to have you with us once more."

"You are too kind, my Lord," Galadriel took his proffered hand, her fair face tranquil as she dismounted. It was with particular shock, then, that Glorfindel received the images she sent into his mind at the same moment, and he almost stumbled as they proceeded in what looked like perfect dignity up the stairs to the main hall. He had to admire Elrond's performance, but careless to have allowed such scenes to be seen . . .

"Yes, quite careless," Galadriel murmured. "Elros, Camthalion, Inw," she called in a slightly louder voice, "with me." Three golden haired elves broke away from the group at the door as rain began to beat down on the roof of the Last Homely House in rolling waves. Glorfindel watched them narrowly as they obediently followed Galadriel up the stairs towards Elrond's chambers. He didn't like their smooth, pale faces that showed no emotion, and he strongly suspected that he was looking on some of the Noldor who had come with Galadriel when she arrived in Lorien after the fall of Doriath. If so, they were likely to be loyal only to her, a fact that, under the circumstances, concerned him greatly.

Leaving the party of Galadrim in the care of several sleepy servants, he almost ran up the stairs after the stately, white-clad foursome, and managed to overtake them and block their path with what he hoped was a casual air. "You must be tired after your long journey, Lady," he smiled and tried not to think of the shiver that Galadriel's eerie calm sent up his spine. It felt familiar somehow, but he couldn't quite place it. "Perhaps I could show you and your attendants to chambers where you can rest and . . . "

**Move aside, seneschal.** Galadriel didn't bother speaking her thoughts aloud, but Glorfindel had the distinct impression that the other three elves heard her as clearly as he did.

"I would, my Lady, but I have standing orders from my Lord Elrond to always announce visitors, even the most exalted ones . . . " Glorfindel had to move back several steps as Galadriel continued her advance as though he was not there, but he resolutely stayed in her path. They were getting perilously close to Elrond's door now, and he fervently wished Erestor would appear to back him up, although what he could do Glorfindel had no idea.

**The fact that you are dear to my beloved Elrohir saves you, seneschal, but do not tempt me further.** Somehow, and Glorfindel could never later say exactly how it happened, he found himself shunted aside and Galadriel's party glided unimpeded into Elrond's rooms.

Now he remembered, he thought, as the same chill coursed its way back down his spine. Although there was seemingly no point of similarity between the two occasions, he'd nonetheless felt something very like it all those many years ago when staring down the Balrog. He shivered in memory, but nonetheless put a hand to the door, determined to do his duty--even though he was not exactly clear on what that might be--only to have it open and Erestor's pudgy form come stumbling out at him.

"I do not believe we'll be needed anymore, Glorfindel," his friend gasped, falling heavily into his arms as the chamber doors snapped shut behind him. It was, Glorfindel thought distractedly, an alarmingly final sound.

       

Haldir awoke to find himself perilously close to drowning in a rapidly forming puddle. Before he could right himself or curse Imladris yet again, he noticed a scuffed brown boot positioned a foot away from his nose, and strong arms lifted him as though he weighed nothing. "I always seem to be pulling you off the ground, gwador," he heard as he was sat on the back of a large black horse. "It is lucky we met, as it seems you need someone to look after you." Haldir didn't need to look up to know that it was Gildor who vaulted onto the horse behind him, and kicked it lightly into motion.

The pounding rain soaked them both thoroughly, but at least it kept Gildor quiet as they turned towards the Last Homely House. Haldir, who was already as wet as an elf could get, was therefore almost thankful for it, until the slanting sheets began hitting down so hard as to almost blow them off the animal's back. Haldir could make no sense of their course, but had the feeling that they were not headed in the right direction. There was no way to inform Gildor of that, however, as the storm was now right overhead and sounded as if a great battle were taking place all around them.

A few long moments later and the horse came to a standstill. Haldir was pulled off and dragged forward by his companion, who also led the animal into the face of the gale. Before he could protest this apparently insane act, he found himself impelled forward into a dark cavern, with Gildor and the horse pushing in after him. In a few seconds, Gildor had somehow managed to light a fire, and Haldir was able to identify his surroundings as a small stone hut used by Elrond's guardians as an outpost near the border. He had passed it coming into Imladris, but had paid it little heed, except to think that the talans of home looked to be much superior. That thought reoccurred to him as he gazed around the cramped quarters, made even more so by the ridiculous presence of the now steaming horse.

"Put the animal back outside!," he ordered Gildor, only to have the elf laugh at him. What a novelty, Haldir thought in disgust.

"Not in this, gwador, the poor thing will drown! Besides, there's plenty of room, and the storm must pass soon." Haldir wrinkled up his nose in disgust at the odor wafting off the large animal, which had managed to grab the best position before the fire. He sat down at a somewhat rickety table and resigned himself to putting up with the horse and Gildor--he really didn't know which was the more annoying--until the blasted storm passed over and he could make his way back to the stables and borrow another mount. One way or the other, he was getting out of Imladris this day, and all the storms in Arda weren't going to stop him.

The rain continued to bucket down around them and Haldir began to feel the cold. His head still hurt from his overindulgence the night before, not to mention the kick of that useless animal the stables at this cursed place had loaned him and . . . his thoughts were interrupted by a gigantic sneeze.

"That doesn't sound good, mellon," Gildor commented from somewhere on the other side of the horse. "Come, get out of those wet things and sit by the fire--you need to warm up or you'll be ill . . . and then it might be weeks until you can leave here," he added in that uncanny manner he had of seeming to read Haldir's mind.

"How am I supposed to 'sit by the fire' with that animal's backside in the way?," he asked irritably. Gildor sighed and pushed the horse into the corner of the little cabin. It neighed in protest, but went.

"Now, come to the heat, gwador, and stop sulking," he commanded, turning again to poke at something he had in a pot over the fire.

Haldir narrowly stopped himself from starting a childish argument with his companion over the fact that he did not, under any circumstances, sulk. He had spent months in chilly caves, guarding passes into Lorien, surrounded by parties of orcs who could ambush one at any moment, and with usually only a handful of fellow Galadrim to support him. He had traveled on extensive journeys beyond his homeland through areas alien to any elf; had fought fierce creatures--from wargs to gigantic spiders--that would have struck terror into most being's hearts; had suffered every type of hardship, from dehydration, to starvation to near death once from a poisoned arrow, and yet he had NEVER sulked. Galadrim did not sulk. Yet it would be a complete waste of time trying to explain something like that to the relentlessly cheerful creature opposite him. Gildor had probably faced far less in his so-called 'missions' for Elrond, but undoubtedly would manage to make a joke of Haldir's whole career. He was too cold, too weary and far too heartsick to care what one ugly elf thought of him.

Moving to the blazing hearth, Haldir stripped down and spread his dripping clothing over the mantle where it added its steam to that still coming off the horse. At least Gildor knew how to make a fire, he noted with approval, allowing its warmth to permeate his chilled muscles and beginning, after a few moments, to feel more himself. All right, so Elrond had rejected him. That was hardly surprising considering the competition; at least he hadn't been shunted aside for some common elf. Haldir's heart still ached, but, in all honesty, he couldn't envision a way in which the relationship might have worked. He would not be willing to give up his life in Lorien, where he had family, friends, and a position of respect for which he had long laboured, to stay at Imladris as Elrond's latest plaything. No, for them to have remained together would have required Haldir to sacrifice everything he was, and in the end, he knew he would have resented his lover for that. Better that it should end quickly, before he was any more infatuated than he already was.

Haldir sat on the hearthrug as the final beads of water dissipated from his skin, and contemplated the dancing flames. Strangely enough, his companion had chosen, at last, to be silent, merely occasionally stirring something in the small pot. It smelled good, and Haldir remembered that he had been too ill from the after effects of the wine to manage breakfast. Now he discovered that he was hungry, and wished he had the lembas he had packed in his saddlebags--now gone with his nag of a horse. Before he could long regret its loss, Gildor began dishing up his creation and handed Haldir a steaming bowl. He regarded it curiously, but it seemed to merely contain some sort of broth. It was good, he discovered, and gentle on his still slightly queasy stomach.

"A small amount of emergency supplies are kept in these cabins," Gildor informed him, seeing his surprise. "The kitchens at Imladris make the broth, then remove the water, leaving cakes that will last for a long time and are small and lightweight enough to carry easily on a journey. You could say it is our version of lembas, only we use both, of course."

Haldir nodded absently, continuing to eat and deciding that he had a new concept to introduce among the Galadrim when he returned home. It was rather surprising to him that no one had yet done so, as surely there was enough contact between the two courts that he could not be the first to learn of this method of storing food. Of course, it was inferior to lembas, he thought, and said as much to Gildor as he finished the bowl. "It is tasty, but you need a fire to make it, and there are many circumstances in which that would be unwise, or even foolhardy--especially on the borders."

Uncharacteristically, Gildor did not respond, other than by looking thoughtful. Haldir noticed that, although he had settled down on the floor as well to eat, he had positioned himself a bit farther away than was technically necessary. He also seemed to be deliberately avoiding looking at him for some reason, giving Haldir a chance to examine his companion at leisure while he combed out his rapidly drying hair. He was, Haldir thought in amusement, one of the saddest specimens of an elf he had ever seen. Of course, the way his tangled hair dripped about his face in snarls and snags did not help, nor did his soaked clothing, which had stretched from the absorption of much water into a misshapen mess.

"Why do you not get out of those wet clothes?," Haldir asked him as he finished rebraiding his hair. "Mine are still damp, but I can make room for at least some of yours on the mantle, and we can spread your cloak out on the floor. It will get somewhat dirty but," and Haldir raised an amused brow as he surveyed it, "I do not think that will much harm it."

"I am fine," Gildor said shortly, and moved to take Haldir's empty bowl along with his own to some nearby shelves. Where he had sat, Haldir noticed, a puddle had formed.

"You lecture me about not becoming ill, but you will do yourself an injury if you remain soaked to the skin." Haldir decided, considering that the elf had saved him a long, wet walk back to Imladris, that keeping him from getting pneumonia was the least he could do in repayment. He tugged off the other elf's soaked cloak and spread it on the only bare patch of floor left other than that in front of the fire where they had been sitting. He turned back to see Gildor regarding him narrowly, arms crossed over his chest.

"I am fine," he repeated stubbornly, and flinched away when Haldir reached out a hand to remove his sodden tunic.

Haldir sighed in exasperation and merely tugged harder. Really, was nothing ever simple with these Imladris elves? "Stop being ridiculous and give me that! If you are worried about the state of your clothes, I can assure you that it would be difficult to harm them further." He looked in distaste at the plain brown tunic and leggings Gildor seemed so concerned about, then wondered if it was perhaps because he could afford no others. Thinking back to the evening of the party, Haldir seemed to recall that the elf had worn an equally unattractive and inexpensive robe, and if he had had on any jewelry, it did not spring to mind. Of course, Haldir had hardly been at his best at the time, and might easily have missed something, but he thought not. "Come," he said more gently, moving to stand closer to Gildor, who suddenly looked a little panicked, "we will be careful with them."

Haldir would have liked to offer to buy the elf a whole new outfit, but decided to wait until he could think of the proper way to phrase it so as not to offend him. He did owe him a favour, after all, and rather thought he would enjoy seeing him properly clad in a colour that suited him. Maybe blue, he mused, while gently tugging Gildor's tunic over his head and laying it on the back of a chair, then moving to undo the buttons of his soaked shirt. Haldir noticed with surprise that he had a rather attractive chest; indeed, his whole form was not as solid as it first appeared, with cleaner, more lithe lines overall, although his muscles were more defined than those most elves could boast. It must be the ill cut of his clothes which made him seem so bulky. Indeed, Haldir thought as he fingered the material of the shirt that he finally managed to coax from Gildor's body, his attire seemed more of human make than elvish, with the cotton coarser to the touch and the stitching lacking grace. Why an elf would choose human clothes was beyond Haldir's comprehension, but he decided, seeing the mulish expression that had come over Gildor's face, not to push the issue at present.

Nudging his own clothes aside, he laid the thin shirt over the mantle, where it would dry quickly, and turned back to the elf, only to find that he had sat himself again on the ground to the left of the puddle and was staring at the fire with a brooding expression. Haldir, who had now nicely dried and was feeling much better for it, could not understand Gildor's insistence on remaining in wet clothes. And, if he didn't do something with his hair soon, it was going to dry into a matted mess.

Kneeling at his side, Haldir smiled in what he knew was a winning fashion--it had brought him enough conquests through the years to prove its persuasiveness--and ran a hand over his companion's messy locks. "You took care of me," he murmured seductively, "let me care for you." Taking Gildor's silence as acquiescence, Haldir dropped a hand to the lacings on the elf's damp leggings, reflecting that undoing them was going to be a bit of a challenge as the knot had been almost welded together by the soaking it had received. "I may have to cut through these," he informed him, rising to look for a knife. "I will be careful of the material, and lacing are easily replaced," he assured him, locating his small dagger in the top of one of his boots. As he turned back, Haldir noticed Gildor's eyes on his body, which was now dry and rosy from the fire's heat, but he said nothing. He had abandoned his former idea of teaching the elf, to whom he now owed a favour, a harsh lesson, and had no desire to pursue yet another conquest at the moment. He did not, after all, have a good track record with Imladris' elves.

Settling back beside the strangely quiet elf, Haldir quickly cut his lacings, being as mindful of the material, cheap though it was, as he had promised. Tugging the soaked leggings from Gildor's body, Haldir pretended not to notice the evidence of the elf's obvious attraction to him, and spread the cloth over the last remaining chair to dry. Turning back, he decided not to press the issue of the small remaining piece of clothing Gildor wore, as that might bring up issues he did not wish to deal with at present. Haldir simply edged him closer to the fire, then sat behind him and began to work his own comb through Gildor's tangles. He was surprised when the elf flinched away from him, and made as if to stand, but he caught his arm and urged him back down, explaining as he did so that he often performed such a service for his brothers. "Rumil has beautiful hair, but it is fine and tends to tangle. He has never learned to care for it properly himself, and Orophin and I are constantly after him about it."

Drawing the comb steadily through the dark strands before him, Haldir privately thought that he had never before seen snarls of this magnitude in the hair of any elf, and privately wondered why Gildor's family did not nag him about it as he did Rumil. Of course, perhaps they did--his own brother paid him little mind, after all, unless he was chasing some elf maid and needed to look respectable for a change. In truth, the strands before him were finer than he had expected, and shone nicely once he had combed them thoroughly. The edges, which were virtually all split ends, desperately needed trimming, however, and Haldir wished he had some scissors with him. Why any elf would take so little care of their appearance was a mystery, but he could not think of a way to phrase the question so as not to appear offensive, so he stayed quiet.

It was rather nice, he thought after a time, to relax in the heat of the fire, a warm and mercifully silent elf in his arms, while the storm beat uselessly against the heavy stone walls of the cabin. It was as dark as night outside now, but inside was almost . . . cozy. He smiled and found he was even enjoying the gargantuan task in front of him, although he became steadily more intrigued as his work grew closer to completion. True, Gildor would never be one of the most beautiful elves of his acquaintance--his face was too round, his expression too cheerful, and his form, despite being fairer than Haldir would have imagined, was too compact and robust for the elegance so prized by the Eldar. Yet, he was far more attractive than he had at first seemed, and the reasons for his plainness seemed more contrived than anything natural.

Haldir finally finished the combing and began braiding Gildor's now silky dark hair. Perhaps it was just the light from the fire, but it seemed of a richer hue than he remembered from that morning, and, unusually for elves, it had a slight ripple to it that made it cascade in flowing streams down his back. If it had not been for the frazzled ends, Haldir would have called it beautiful. Finishing his task in back, he moved around in front of his companion, kneeling before him to do the braiding along the sides of his head. Gildor's face was flushed with a healthy pink glow, whether from the heat of the fire or because of Haldir's position, he didn't know. He finished the braids, chuckling to himself at the thought of how many elves would like to have him kneeling before them--would like it very much but would never see it--and then sat back to survey the results of his ministrations.

By the Valar, but he did nice work! The elf who steadfastly refused to meet his eyes was. . . well, he was attractive, Haldir thought. Not beautiful, no, but, imagining him attired in a complimentary colour, something that would turn his nicely bronzed skin a golden hue, like the dancing flames were doing now, with golden bands showing off those nicely muscled arms and with the ends removed from his shining hair . . . yes, Haldir mused, he would turn a few heads. Who would ever have thought it?

"Why do you hide your beauty, brother?," he asked him, reaching out to arrange a final braid in a more attractive position. Gildor was looking past him into the fire, but Haldir saw his blush deepen all the same. "I understand when you are on assignment, that it might be useful to pass unnoticed, but why at Imladris?"

"The rain . . . it becomes less, I think," Gildor commented, turning from him to now stare out the window. "We may be able to leave soon."

Glancing at the dark sky visible through the small pane of glass, against which wind and heavy rain still blew, Haldir could only assume this was more evidence of Gildor's unflagging optimism. It seemed likely to him that they would be stuck there for the best part of the day, if not, indeed, for all of it. And unless the clouds moved on faster than they were giving signs of doing, they might have to stay the night, too, or risk losing their way back to the house, with no moon or stars to guide them.

"I doubt that, brother," he told him mildly, before turning back to the problem. Haldir loved a mystery--always had done--and here was an intriguing one set before him when he had little else with which to pass the time. Smiling at the surprisingly pretty profile of the elf next to him, Haldir rather thought that he had found a puzzle for his afternoon's diversion--he would figure out the enigma that was Gildor.

       

"Elrond told me to go, and Celeborn agreed! You must be mad." Erestor looked fearfully about as he and Glorfindel made their way silently through the hidden corridor that led from the library to Elrond's rooms. It was dim, there being no light except for that from the occasional crack around a concealed door, but everyone who knew about these hallways had also long ago memorized their twists and turns. It was not stubbing his toe that worried Erestor, Glorfindel knew, and he himself had doubts about their excursion. But he had to know that his master was all right. He had long ago pledged his life to Elrond's family, and, although he kept telling himself that the only thing probably occurring was a serious domestic row, he couldn't get the faces of Galadriel's Noldor out of his mind. Rebel Noldor. Kin-slayers. He shuddered and told himself once more that he was simply being fanciful, but he kept going anyway. Erestor, too, although he continued to mutter complaints, did not turn back, and the two swiftly and silently crept closer to Elrond's chambers.

The fact that they could hear nothing when they arrived behind the secret door to the study did not worry Glorfindel. Galadriel did not strike him as the type to rave about, and anyway, the thickness of the wood insured that little sound ever leaked through. He put his hand to the door and pushed, very gently. It swung open on well-greased hinges without a sound, and Glorfindel thanked the Valar he had remembered to oil it again just recently. Elrond had put the passage system in place when he drew up the designs for the palace centuries before, primarily as an added safety precaution in an unsettled age, but they had never been used for escape. Most were simply employed as shortcuts by the few who knew about them; this particular one was usually used for allowing he or Erestor to overhear conversations between Elrond and private petitioners when his Lord wanted their opinions without the second party's knowledge. He had never in all his long years imagined that he would be using it to spy on the master of the house himself.

Poking his head through the narrow opening, Glorfindel could see little more than he had in the passageway. The heavy drapes were closed, and with the skies the way they were, little light would probably have come through the window in any case. The study was silent and nothing could be heard from the bedroom beyond. That was a bit worrisome, as the inner doors of Elrond's rooms were of lighter material than the heavy ones to the corridors--both the known and the hidden--and something, at least, should have been audible to his straining ears.

"Well?," Erestor poked him in the back with a forceful finger, and Glorfindel turned to tell him to hush, only to see his expression change from impatience to one approaching fear. Glorfindel spun back around to see one of the haughty looking Noldor peering through the gap in the door at him.

"Your presence is not required," he was told shortly, before the door was slammed solidly in his face.

"Well," Erestor's resigned tones floated through the darkness, "at least we tried. Perhaps we should just let things be, after all."

Glorfindel studied the barred entrance with something approaching outrage welling up in his breast. That these . . . people . . . should dare to come into Imladris . . . acting as if they OWNED the place . . . and bar he and Erestor, who had served its Lord for time out of mind, from his presence . . . he, especially, who had served Tuor and then ?arendil before Elrond's very birth! Glorfindel could not remember the last time he had lost his temper, but he was coming very close at the moment. "I don't think so," he commented shortly, before spinning about and striding back down the tunnel, almost running over Erestor in the process. These Noldor, or whatever they were, were about to find out what happened to those who challenged Glorfindel of Gondolin.

       

Haldir was finding his companion more and more intriguing as the day wore on. For one thing, his shyness seemed to be growing rather than lessening with time, although Haldir knew his own actions might have something to do with that. Several times Gildor had tried to rise, but as there was nowhere to go--the rain continued unabated, and the cabin was quite small in size--Haldir could only assume that the action was designed to remove the almost embrace into which Haldir had dragged him, and he declined to allow it. His excuse had been that he was cold and needed Gildor's warmth--not that much of a lie, really, as his clothes were still wet and he did not want to give up the comfort provided by the body in front of him.

He had amused himself in seeing how far Gildor's bashfulness went. He'd spent the last hour trimming his companion's hair the hard way, by using the razor sharp edge of his knife. Despite the clumsiness of the tool, it was looking much better, with all the ragged edges gone; Haldir was now taking his time braiding it in an elaborate style that he seriously doubted Gildor had ever used before (or probably would again). Meanwhile, he made certain to put a sensuality in his actions--a delicate brush of the back of a hand over a flushed cheek, a touch on the downy nape of a neck that lasted just slightly longer than necessary--and had been pleased to see the way these small gestures seemed to vibrate through Gildor. He was passionate, then, this one, and maybe a bit of a sensualist, too, although you would never guess it from his clothes. Haldir had always favoured, other than when on patrol, buttery soft leathers and smooth silks for his attire, liking the way they felt under his hands. Gildor's clothes were stiff and scratchy, but he, himself, was not, but rather more like satin under Haldir's occasional soft touches.

He found himself wondering how that strong body would feel clothed in velvety suede and thick, Lorien silk . . . he also wondered why someone who obviously liked and responded so well to his touch, continued to shy away from it. Gildor's whole body was stiff and Haldir could almost feel his reluctance to remain quietly seated while the Galadrim played with his hair. Haldir thought back to that morning, but remembered no such timidity on the way to the baths, at which time, as far as his muddled memory of the early part of the day would allow him to recall, Gildor had chatted and seemed his annoying self all the way there. He wondered now what would have happened had he not felt overwhelmed by Elladan's incessant conversation, and remained with them, instead of making an excuse to return to his rooms. Would he have seen that same shyness then, or did Elladan--whose preferences all of Imladris knew--leave his father's agent as cold as the icy waters of the Bruinen? Haldir liked the idea that he was able to bring a reaction out in his companion that the fair Elladan could not, and almost wished he'd remained, headache or no.

"You have finally dried, mellon," he commented softly, drawing a hand lightly up Gildor's arm. The now expected shiver followed his hand, and Haldir smiled to see it. Gildor had shut his eyes, as if to will Haldir's presence away, and the Galadrim took it as a deliberate challenge. "I told you once you are beautiful, but you didn't believe me," he pressed a light kiss on the delicate curls at Gildor's neck. "If you could see yourself now, brother, you might change your mind." Haldir swept the long curls back from the tempting nape in front of him and nuzzled it more effectively, letting his lips trail lightly over the heated flesh. Gildor gasped and yet again tried to rise, but there was a sluggishness in his actions that gave evidence of an internal struggle. He was probably stronger than Haldir himself, and could have moved away had he really wished to do so; yet Haldir was able to easily pull him back into his embrace.

He let his arms encircle the trembling form in front of him and play over the nicely formed chest. He lightly brushed a bronze nipple, which immediately drew up invitingly under his touch. Encouraged, Haldir decided to give it more attention, and quickly moved in front of his companion and captured it lightly between his teeth, liking the way Gildor's loudly beating heart was audible as his ear brushed close to his chest. Yet Gildor drew in a ragged breath when Haldir began to suck lightly, and rising quickly to his feet, stumbled backwards to the far wall of the cabin.

"No . . . I do not think we should do that." He was still not looking him in the eyes, Haldir noticed, but, amazingly, seemed almost to be addressing the horse, which he was petting on the side of its smelly neck.

"Why?," Haldir inquired, truly puzzled. It was obvious Gildor was attracted to him, and he was finding the darker elf more appealing by the minute. They had the rest of the day to pass somehow or other, and there was a limit to how many types of braids Haldir knew how to do. Besides, Gildor already rather resembled a comely maiden on the way to her first spring festival. "It rains outside," Haldir reasoned calmly, "and shows no sign of stopping. We are stuck here, at least for the day, and probably for the night as well. Why not take pleasure in each other, and help the time to pass?"

"Is that what the Galadrim do?," Gildor asked, a little raggedly. "Pleasure themselves with each other when they are supposed to be guarding their Lord's borders? If so, I am surprised Lorien is not overrun with orcs by now."

Had he been able to keep his voice from quaking, he might have succeeded in drawing Haldir off the subject and into a useless argument; as it was, Haldir was rather more interested in the tone of his words, than the words themselves. Why was he so nervous at the thought of a brief tryst? It made no sense, unless he was bonded? But Haldir had seen no sign of it, and if that was the case, why so openly approach him at the party? Still, it had to be asked. "If you are joined to another . . . " Haldir stopped at Gildor's unconscious burst of laughter.

"No, I am not bonded," he said, rather bitterly.

"Then you do not find me attractive?," Haldir knew that was not true, but he wanted to hear Gildor's answer.

"You . . . are very fair," he commented, while actually taking up a brush and beginning to curry the hateful animal crowding them out of room. Haldir could scarce believe it, but determined not to be drawn off topic.

"Then why do you prefer to spend your caresses on that fetid creature rather than on me?" Despite himself, Haldir was becoming angry. He was not used to being denied, although, had Gildor been bonded to another or for some reason not found him attractive, he could have understood it. But since neither was the case . . .

"You do not answer, brother?"

"My reasons are my own; I owe you no answer," Gildor replied in an infuriatingly even tone of voice. He was getting himself under control again, Haldir could see, and soon would be lost to him. He would probably spend the rest of the day grooming that smug animal rather than finding pleasure--or giving it. Well, we'll see about that, he thought, a wicked glint coming into his eyes. Gildor seemed to have no difficulty refusing his spoken offers, but what about the more personal type of advances? He had shivered in his arms in want, just a few moments before; Haldir would feel that again, and more, much more, before this day was through. A few steps brought him to Gildor's side, and a deft motion removed the brush from his hands.

"All right, a compromise, then," he said, smiling openly.

Gildor looked at him with obvious suspicion, but inclined his head; apparently, he realised that hours spent dodging Haldir's advances would be difficult at best, especially when his body wanted them so badly.

"Spend half an hour with me before the fire, my beautiful brother, and if you afterwards still wish to curry a horse for the rest of the day, I will trouble you no further."

Gildor looked torn, and Haldir tried his best to put an innocent expression on his face. It was a bit difficult as he had a little trouble remembering what one looked like--it was not an expression for which he often had a use--but apparently, Gildor liked what he saw.

"One half-hour, and that is all, gwador," he said sternly. Haldir smilingly agreed, and this time he thought he was the one who could almost read Gildor's mind. What is another half-hour, when he had already spent more than twice that in Haldir's embrace? Oh, but gwador, Haldir barely refrained from telling him, as with difficulty he repressed triumphal laughter, I was not trying then!

       

"You are going to get yourself killed," Erestor hissed, as he slowly let out the grey Elvin rope at the end of which dangled the figure of Glorfindel. Below him was nothing for a very long way--just the chasm over which the Last Homely House had been constructed and a great deal of open air. It was a beautiful scene from a balcony or window, with the rivulets and waterfalls crashing amongst craggy rocks, but the thought of what would happen, even to an elf's body, should he fall from such a height was close to giving Erestor heart failure.

"Let out a little more," came Glorfindel's voice softly from now a considerable distance away. Erestor, clinging to the peak of the roof above Elrond's rooms, slowly obliged, careful to play out the rope as evenly as possible with only one hand with which to work. His other was clinging desperately to the decorative bronze finial on the roof's peak, which offered the only handhold available. A sudden gust of wind and rain slapped his face and almost caused him to lose his precarious grip, which was not helped by the fact that he had to lean far over the edge of the roof to see what Glorfindel was doing. He quickly looped some more of the line around the post at his elbow and renewed his grip. Bother Glorfindel and his crazy schemes anyway! The elf had always been reckless, preferring the more showy and dangerous road to that of caution and common sense. Erestor had occasionally envied him his careless flamboyance, but at the moment, he could only deplore the irresponsibility that seemed likely to end in tragedy.

Glorfindel, however, had managed the seemingly impossible task of fighting the gales that buffeted him from side to side, and was now approaching the balcony outside Elrond's study. Erestor shivered for more than one reason as his long-time friend slid along the slick sides of the house until his feet came into contact with the slippery balcony railing. Even if he made it, which it looked rather as if he might, what would he find within? Erestor rather thought that he could live without knowing, and trusted Elrond to deal with whatever difficulties his admittedly foolish actions had brought on him. For Elbereth's sake, the elf was approaching 6,000 years of age; if he couldn't talk his way out of something by now . . .

Of course, this WAS Galadriel they were discussing, and that did rather alter things, but still, Elrond had clearly commanded him to leave and he was not in the habit of ignoring a direct order. Had he been able to refuse Glorfindel without seriously imperiling the life of his friend, Erestor would have happily done so. But in that case, Glorfindel would merely have found someone else for the job, and they might not have been as competent . . . or as discreet. He closed his eyes briefly, both because Glorfindel was now attempting to launch himself onto the rain washed balcony and Erestor could no longer bear to watch, and because thoughts of the scandal if any of this came out was enough to make him wish for somewhere to hide--preferably for a century or so until everything blew over.

As loyal as he was to Elrond, Erestor couldn't help but be a tad irritated at his friend and master. He could have any elf he wanted--any elf--so why did it have to be Celeborn? Elrond, he mourned, why, oh why, didn't you just say no? You are no elfling to be ruled by your passions, and don't we have a satisfying arrangement already? Erestor knew, of course, that Elrond was not in love with him, had never been and never would be, but that suited him admirably since he, probably alone among the elves of Imladris, was not in love with him either. However, he did enjoy their little games, and Celebrian was so often gone that it was almost as if he occupied her place in the home. It was he who arranged the festivals, ordered the decorations and planned the food. It was his organisation that made the whole house run with military efficiency, but also with an understated grace that immediately relaxed any and all comers. Visitors had their needs met even before most realised they had them, and many commented that it felt as if there was some type of magic field that encased this land, making all within it tranquil and beautiful. Erestor snorted; what made Imladris work so well was planning, and pure and simple hard work--his hard work, thank you very much--which had nothing to do with showy feats of valour but much with order and routine. It might not be glamorous, but it worked.

And now, here he was, stuck with a completely unexpected crisis on his hands that no amount of planning could have foreseen, just because Elrond had to have a romp with the last elf in Arda on whom he should ever have laid a finger. Erestor was as close to disliking his Lord as he had ever been, part of which was caused by serious worry over exactly what was happening in that so silent room. His mind kept projecting images of tall, stately Noldor carrying off sacks filled with butchered elf parts to some secret and unsung grave . . . merciful Valar, but he needed a drink! A really big drink, he thought longingly--maybe an entire barrel of the Mirkwood vintage would allow him to forget this day's events . . .

Thankfully, Glorfindel aroused him from his morbid fancies with a tug on the line. Erestor looked down to see one of the Noldor seemingly asleep in Glorfindel's arms, and as he watched, his friend tied the elf securely to the rope and tugged on it again, apparently meaning for Erestor to pull his captive up to the roof. Another limp body had been tossed over the balcony railing at what looked to be a rather precarious angle. Both were male elves; Erestor rather hoped Glorfindel's usual chivalry would keep him from treating the female the same way.

As he began the laborious process of hauling up the first captive, his dark hair plastered to his drenched form and his rarely used muscles protesting the strain, Erestor was still glad to have his job rather than Glorfindel's. A glance downward showed that the golden-haired Lord had disappeared once more behind the heavy, drawn curtains beyond the balcony. Whispering a quick prayer for his safety, Erestor allowed the Noldor below him to bounce a few quite unnecessary times against the hard wood of the house. Disrupt his perfect routine, would they? Well, they'd soon discover that an irritated Sindar could be quite a formidable adversary himself, especially one who had had to forgo his weekly massage to go climbing about rooftops in the middle of a tempest!

       

Haldir seated himself calmly beside his afternoon's experiment and smiled as guilessly as he could manage. He was proud of many of his abilities--he was a skilled tracker, a lauded marksman, an expert with either knives or swords, and was usually a proficient rider when the horse was even partially well trained. He could also dance, compose a poem or song, and flatter with a courtier's ease. Yet his greatest talent, and the one which counted as his favourite hobby, was that of seduction, whether it be verbally in persuading another realm to align with Lorien's wishes, or on a more . . . personal level. He had rarely failed, and never when it came to charming a would-be lover. He did not intend for a bedraggled Imladris elf to ruin that perfect record.

Pulling Gildor back against him, he resumed where they had left off, but with far more concentration than he had previously shown. "So tell me, why so shy, Gildor of everywhere? You are pretty enough, meldir, when you do not hide behind ill-fitting clothes." He drew the elf even closer, wedging him between his outstretched legs, and wriggling behind him until he was comfortable. At least Haldir was comfortable; Gildor was as tense as if he expected imminent execution, but Haldir allowed no irritation at that fact to creep into his tone. "Do you know what I was thinking earlier?" He knew his breath was tickling the back of Gildor's neck, for the elf was attempting to lean away from him to avoid it, which was strange in one who supposedly felt no attraction. "I was thinking that I would like to see this pretty chest encased in a shirt of the finest Lorien silk," he allowed a roving fingertip to very lightly draw a circle around one of Gildor's taught nipples, "although no silk could be smoother than your skin, mellon. Or, it would feel exquisite," he murmured, while sliding both hands from Gildor's breast to his stomach, where they lingered, "to feel all these perfect muscles shifting under the softest suede. Yes . . . that would be very nice."

Haldir allow his hands to continue their exploration of Gildor's torso while he ran his tongue delicately along the side of his neck and under his jawline, which had been exposed when his captive twisted his head away. Chuckling softly at the action, and insuring that his breath passed over the now moist skin, Haldir gently began to nuzzle the silky ear nearest him. "It is no good turning from me, mellon . . . all parts of you are delicious," and he nipped slightly at the plump lobe. Gildor jerked at the sensation, but Haldir kept him in place with a strong arm about his waist, which, since it was already there, he also used to pull the reluctant elf still closer up against him. "Can't you feel how much I desire you, brother?," he whispered, reaching with his free hand to cup the warm, sleek swell of Gildor's hip and then jerk it back in one quick motion, closing what slight space had remained between them. He then wrapped his legs tightly around the startled elf, who had apparently not been expecting that particular move, thus keeping Gildor trapped while freeing his own hands. Simultaneously, he began to suck very lightly on the delicate flesh of his companion's neck, slowly raising a mark that the shy elf would have some difficulty explaining when they returned.

Gildor was becoming obviously more distressed, and was making what felt like genuine attempts to get away. Haldir had no intention of forcing him to do anything, but he was also not about to release him until his time was up, and only a few minutes had yet passed. Tensing his legs, then, he kept the struggling elf in place, and trapped his arms in a tight embrace. "Is it me you fight, brother," he asked, breathing into that same luscious ear, "or is it yourself? We do nothing but play here, nothing to bring you such distress . . . and you have said I may have this time . . . "

"But . . . the time . . . it must be up by now," Gildor panted, with a thread of desperation in his tone. Haldir laughed in sincere amusement. "Why, no, mellon, it has been but a moment. Why, does it seem to you longer? Perhaps it is because you are still fighting . . . with yourself." Haldir could resist temptation no longer--not that he tried very hard if truth be known--and slid a questing hand down to where Gildor's loincloth was concealing what looked to be an interesting condition.

"Please," Gildor begged in what sounded like real distress, "I cannot do this . . . "

"But you do not have to do anything, lirimaer. I would give you pleasure, that is all." Haldir slowly tugged at the thin linen under his hand, pulling it gently from his companion's now trembling form. It came away easily--well, at least something is cooperating, he thought in wry amusement--and then he saw the treasure Gildor's coyness had been hiding. "Well, brother," he breathed in genuine admiration, "you never cease to surprise." Sliding a gentle hand down between his captive's thighs, he tenderly cupped the downy balls, stroking them lightly with a fingertip, and watched with satisfaction and growing desire as Gildor writhed in his need. With his other hand, Haldir slid the soft side of one nail down the velvety length of his companion's quite impressive erection, listening as he did so to the sounds of Gildor's steadily more laboured breathing.

Suddenly releasing him from his embrace, Haldir moved with alacrity to push him back against the softness of the hearthrug, positioning his body astride but not yet touching that of the panic-stricken elf. Lowering himself to hover a few inches above Gildor's quaking form, he allowed his hair to fall about their faces, creating a dim tent that blocked some of the firelight from his companion's flushed visage. "Do you trust me, brother?," he asked simply, all trace of amusement gone. "I would do nothing but bring you pleasure . . . you know that."

"I know it, but . . . "

"Then you must trust me." For the first time in hours, Gildor looked straight into Haldir's blue eyes, and his own brown ones filled with shining tears. Then he closed them tightly, and turned his face away.

"Do what you will," he said, in what sounded like resignation.

Haldir had had many reactions to his technique in the past, but this was a new one. He regarded the elf below him thoughtfully for a moment, a new idea dawning in his mind. But no . . . surely not . . . it was absurd. But it would explain a great many things . . . Deciding to test a theory, Haldir thought back to many centuries before, and dredged up some seldom used skills. His own preferences rarely required them anymore, but then, one never really forgot how to manage the seduction of an innocent. "You will enjoy this," he promised, stroking a careful hand down his companion's soft cheek, and silently he vowed to make certain that was true.

       

Erestor was cold and fed up. Glorfindel had reappeared to tie the second captive to the rope once Erestor had practically ruptured himself dragging the first one up, and had said something, but his voice was too low and the wind was too high for it to be audible. After the laborious chore of hefting the second Noldor--and just what DID they feed them in Lorien, he wondered, they looked slender but weighed a ton--Erestor had rested briefly, as his arms felt like they were literally about to drop off. Then he waited, and waited, and waited for Glorfindel to rejoin him, probably with the Noldor female in tow, but of him there was no sign. The rain had not abated one bit, and the roof was slick with it, making it a constant chore to keep the two limp bodies beside him from falling off into the ravine. One of them had even started to wake up after a time, requiring Erestor, who really hated force, to have to clock him on the head with the heavy metal hook attached to the rope. He had not stirred again after that, which was now causing Erestor to worry that he might have hit him too hard and done a serious injury . . . and where in Arda was Glorfindel?

Finally deciding that his loyalty to Elrond did not include dying of exposure, he began the truly annoying task of dragging each of the inert forms along the slippery roof to the small window leading into an unused portion of the attic. He stumbled several times, but somehow managed to keep his footing, and shoved them one by one through the narrow opening. He half dragged and half kicked them into a heap in the corner, then leaned back against the interior wall with a hand clutching at his heart, sure that even Elrond's skills, had the cursed elf been available, would not be enough to prevent an imminent heart attack. Finally, the red mist that had swirled before his eyes cleared a bit, and he was able to regard the pile of Noldor a few feet away with extreme distaste. Now what? He could, of course, summon a whole host of servants to drag the creatures to some unused room and lock them in, but if he did so, the whole house would know about it by evening. The only hope Erestor could see for salvaging anything out of this debacle was to make certain no one--NO ONE--ever heard about it. They might compose songs to the end of time about all the heroic and dastardly deeds of legendary Third Age, but by Elbereth, this wasn't going to be among them! He had spent too much time helping Elrond to build up the reputation of his house to have it become a laughing stock now because of some brief lapse of sanity.

With a heartfelt sigh, he raised one Noldor by the hair, checked his pulse and, satisfied that he was in no danger of acquiring the reputation of kin-slayer, efficiently tied him up. For good measure, he made a gag out of the elf's belt and thrust it between his lips, not that he seriously thought anyone would be able to hear him all the way up here even if he screamed his head off, but it didn't do to take chances. He then treated the second one the same way, relieved to find that, although there was a sizeable bump on his head where he had been hit, that he, too, breathed easily. Lastly, he checked them for hidden weapons. He found none, but did notice that Galadriel chose her companions with an unerring eye for beauty. Dangerous rebels they might or might not be, but there was no doubt of their loveliness, which was quite nicely displayed by their soaking wet attire.

He shook his head at his own folly, wasting time lost in admiration over two probably thoroughly wicked elves, when he should be looking for Glorfindel. Having dealt with the immediate problem, Erestor left the attic, locking the entrance securely behind him, and headed resolutely down the stairs. Noticing with horror his bedraggled state in a wall mirror, he made a quick detour to change before his still dripping form could alert the whole household to the fact that something strange was happening. Drat it all, and that had been a new robe, too. Glorfindel had better be in serious trouble, he thought in high annoyance as he stomped off to his rooms, or he might find Erestor to be more of a threat than Galadriel AND a Balrog.

       

Glorfindel had possibly never been embarrassed. It didn't go with his personality, which usually found amusement in situations that upset and confused others. However, he strongly suspected that he was embarrassed now. After disposing of the two guards who had been standing watch over the corridor to Elrond's bedroom, he had very quietly snuck through the wardrobe and cracked the portal leading into the inner sanctum. He had immediately wished he had not. Perhaps Erestor had been right after all, and this was better left within the family. Of course, he pretty much was family, and would be so formally as soon as he and Elrohir bonded. That thought did not particularly reassure him at the moment, however. Elrond and Celeborn, two of the most powerful elves in Arda, were suspended from one of the heavy oak beams that comprised the ceiling of the bedroom, the rope that bound their hands drooping enough to allow their toes to just touch the ground but not to get any purchase on it. They were bound and gagged, but not blindfolded, and were as nude as the day they were born. Glorfindel seriously doubted Galadriel's ability to cause their predicament alone, and the only other elf in sight was the languid blond she had called Inwe, who was reclining on the bed toying with the edge of her pale sash. He could only assume, then, that the two rather large Noldor he'd just surprised had had something to do with it, although how they could have overcome both Elrond and Celeborn was a mystery. Galadriel was surveying the two with a slight smile on her face, her riding crop still held loosely in one small hand. "There are going to be some changes," she was saying softly, as she slowly circled them, the lacy train of her gown trailing gracefully behind her. "I can see that I have been . . . remiss . . . in allowing you so much latitude," she commented to her husband, while her crop traced lightly up his inner thigh. "I did not realise that you enjoyed submission quite so much." Glorfindel winced as the coarse leather whip was dragged roughly over Celeborn's most delicate area, several times. The Lord of Lorien said nothing, but his narrowed eyes followed his wife's dainty figure with a dangerous glint in them. Glorfindel was suddenly extremely glad that he wasn't Galadriel, and only wished the powerful Eldar would take their quarrel beyond the borders of Imladris and keep it there.

"And you," Galadriel continued, turning her attention to Elrond, "need to learn about the concept of ownership," and she stroked her long fingernails down his exposed chest, leaving a trail of deep pink ridges behind them, "private property," and the dainty little hand dropped further, grabbing his balls, "POSSESSION," and squeezed--hard, judging by the sudden widening of Elrond's eyes and the choking gasp that could be heard from behind the gag.

"But these are not difficult concepts," she remarked, moving a few feet away to regard them coolly, "and you have had many years to learn them. I can only assume, therefore, that you need something to act as a reminder, if any of this conversation should . . . slip your minds . . . in the future. Inwe . . . " The blond on the bed smiled, showing genuine feeling for the first time, as her eager eyes roamed over Galadriel's lace clad body.

"That potion you drank earlier should start to work anytime," Galadriel told her two victims, while she joined her handmaiden on Elrond's large bed. "Its effects are fairly mild if you don't become . . . aroused . . . for any reason," she said innocently, as Inwe began kissing her long, white neck. "Of course, if you do," and Inwe slowly worked the lace off one shoulder, baring a well-shaped breast to her ministrations, "you will feel as if you are about to explode from lust, but will not be able to find relief, no matter what steps you take." Glorfindel thought he saw an almost smug look pass between Elrond and Celeborn at that, but was too preoccupied to wonder about it.

"Oh, and I should warn you," Galadriel noted, as if in afterthought, "the effects will last at least several days." Her two prisoners began to thrash around at that, both suddenly looking truly appalled, but Glorfindel had ceased to concern himself with them. Inwe stood in order to drop her gown to the floor and, he noticed appreciatively, these modern maidens did not bother with undergarments. "Of course, that's only if you become aroused, " Galadriel commented, as Inwe crawled across the huge bed towards her, a fevered look in her golden eyes.

It was all horribly embarrassing, and Glorfindel strongly suspected that he was blushing, although, having never done so before he couldn't be sure. It was truly terrible, just too utterly awful . . . he began looking around for a stool as standing for the whole show was probably going to get tiring.

       

Gildor could hear the rain dancing on the roof of the cabin; could feel the heat generated from the nearby fire; and smell the mingled scents of damp clothing, wet horse and lingering wafts of the soup they'd had for lunch. He tried to concentrate on one or any of these things to somehow block out the form hovering above him, but it was impossible. Haldir was looking him over, probably deciding on what torture to inflict next, and Gildor didn't like the speculative gleam in those beautiful eyes. It's all right, he told himself, for something like the thousandth time that day, he never has to know. Just be calm and everything will be all right. That happy little theory had lasted for less time than it took Haldir to remove his clothes; having that perfect body, either sheened with water or warm and pink from the fire, walking about completely unconcerned about its nudity, had quickly informed Gildor that he had made a serious mistake. I should have walked back to Imladris in the rain and left him here, he thought in desperation, as Haldir continued to study him, all the while running a light hand over his body. Oh, why didn't he just get it over with?

"Tell me if I do anything you don't like," Haldir whispered, lowering his head to catch Gildor's lips in a soft kiss. He was rather surprised at the tenderness of the action, as he had assumed, once Haldir had his permission to continue, that he would no longer have any reason to be gentle. But he was, and the sensation was almost too much for Gildor. Haldir was going to find out his secret; his reactions would betray him. He knew he should just try to enjoy himself--this was, after all, what he had longed for, ever since he first saw Haldir of Lorien while on a mission for Elrond centuries before. He had been captivated then by his beauty, and impressed by his skill and fearlessness as he led Gildor and three other Imladris spies through perilous mountain passes filled with every type of danger. At first it had been admiration, then fascination, and, by the end of the trip, Gildor had known his heart was lost. He had also known that he was a fool, for Haldir of Lorien would never love someone like him. Indeed, the fact that Haldir had not even remembered him when they met again had not surprised Gildor in the least.

Haldir's mouth left his and traced a trail of kisses down his neck to his chest, where he proceeded to finish the work he had begun before of sensual exploration. Gildor knew this all meant nothing to Haldir, just an afternoon's entertainment before he rode away, back to the many lovers he had in Lorien. And Gildor knew all about them, knew all about him, for he had made it his business to know. Even while telling himself that he was only feeding his obsession, he nonetheless had made a point of learning everything possible about the Lorien guard. What he discovered had just made him more miserable, however, as it became even more obvious that Haldir could never be his. The object of his affections was not only beautiful and accomplished, but came from a prominent and wealthy family, one that made Gildor's look even more insignificant than it usually did. The number of his lovers had also made it obvious that this elf took pretty much whoever he chose; Gildor, who was trained to miss little, had strong suspicions that even the Lord of Imladris himself had not been beyond Haldir's reach.

Of course, he thought, as his lover's attentions trailed lower, he had known that he might be able to manage such a tryst as this, for although Haldir was usually discerning in his tastes, contriving some sort of snare was not beyond Gildor's abilities. He had almost laughed when the storm had become too harsh to allow them to return to the house that morning, as just such a fantasy had played so often in his mind as to make the reality almost familiar. Well, maybe sans the horse.

But he had not arranged it, and had not wanted or intended for it to happen. He had followed Haldir that morning simply out of a wish to keep him in sight as long as possible, as stupidly infatuated as he knew that proved him to be. Nothing could have been further from his mind than this scenario, as it was everything he so much needed to avoid.

He could not keep himself from groaning as Haldir's questing mouth finally dropped to his straining shaft, and the wicked elf slowly dragged his tongue along its length, his breath feeling cool against the heated flesh. Elbereth! He did NOT want this!

He had planned it all so carefully, dressing in his oldest clothes, even some which he used on missions when he needed to pass as human, something his bulkier build would allow if he was only seen at a distance or heavily cloaked. He had just returned from a particularly arduous assignment, but learning that Haldir was at Imladris for some reason, he had refrained from getting his hair trimmed or otherwise attempting to improve his bedraggled appearance. He had worn no jewelry--not that he owned much anyway--and had bought the ugliest robe he could find for the party, but even then, he had only dared to approach the object of his fascination when Haldir was obviously staggeringly drunk.

All he had wanted, Gildor thought as Haldir moved on to nuzzling his scrotum, was a chance to talk to him, to be with him, and perhaps to keep him from ending up face down in the punch bowl. He had originally not planned to approach him at all, but he saw Haldir's face when Elrond left the ball early and did not return and his eyes as they followed Celeborn's retreating figure and he realised the truth. Gildor had only wanted to offer some measure of comfort, to do something to wipe that look of hurt and betrayal off that beautiful face. He had relied on Haldir not finding him alluring, and therefore not making any advances--or, if he did, as had proven to be the case, being too drunk to act on them. Still, it had been stupid, and he had made things even worse by giving into temptation and returning to his room the next morning.

Haldir was making thought difficult as, apparently finishing his inspection of Gildor's charms to his satisfaction, he suddenly swallowed him whole. The rush of sensation was unlike anything he had felt before, or wanted to feel now. It was bliss, it was ecstasy . . . it was certain to make his heartbreak that much worse when Haldir rejected him. He had always known that, and had carefully avoided doing anything that would put him in this position. But oh, it was glorious, so much better than his dreams, and if this was all he could even have, after so much longing, so much waiting, then let it be enough . . .

       

Haldir could tell the moment his careful attentions FINALLY broke through the wall that Gildor had, for some reason, built around himself. He had begun to doubt if the elf was ever going to give into sensation and just enjoy what they were doing. Haldir had known partners like him before--they thought too much, analyzed too much, and didn't feel enough. But, he was glad to see that his attention to detail finally overcame that little problem, and Gildor lost himself in passion as he came.

Now came the more . . . delicate task. If his suspicions were correct--and although Haldir had trouble believing that any adult elf was completely innocent, it was the only explanation that seemed to fit the facts--then he needed to be careful. Which presented a problem, he realised, as his companion pulled him into a heated kiss. Haldir returned it with some enthusiasm, but part of his mind stayed on the problem at hand, or, rather, on what was not at hand. If Gildor was truly inexperienced, then doing without some sort of lubricant was not even a possibility, and Haldir's had been in his luggage which was now roaming around the Valar knew where on that dratted excuse for a horse. He somehow seriously doubted that Gildor had anything with him, and therein lay the difficulty. Relaxing into his partner's arms, Haldir spared a glance out the window. The rain had finally slacked off, and even a little weak sunlight had started to show through.

Kissing his companion lightly once more, Haldir jumped to his feet for a better look. Yes, the sun was definitely out and the ground, although be speckled with puddles, was easily firm enough for riding. Maybe that voyeuristic horse of Gildor's, which had been watching them with interest for some time, would finally come in handy. Fingering his companion's clothes, Haldir found them to be almost dry, and tossed them to him, laughing at his surprised expression.

"Come, gwador," he told him, searching about for his own leggings, "I promised myself to do this properly, and that requires certain . . . advantages . . . that only Imladris can provide. We ride!"

"But . . . but if we can leave, then why do you . . . ," Gildor broke off, looking suddenly shy again. "That is, I will understand if you don't want . . . "

Haldir felt strange as he looked into Gildor's miserable brown eyes. How ridiculous, that he should think that Haldir of Lorien would fail to finish what he'd started! Although, come to think of it, he wasn't exactly sure what that was. Some piece of his mind that still had a grip on reality after the convoluted emotions of this very strange day, now spoke up. Perhaps you should just end it here. Ride back to the house, get another horse, and go as far down the road to Lorien as you can before night catches you. Then you won't have to deal with what those big brown eyes are telling you. You won't have to think about what you're going to do saddled with a ragtag elf who probably won't even share your . . . personal habits. You can just walk away now and deem it one of those things. Nothing actually happened. Nothing has to happen, and, obviously from his expression, Gildor fully expected that to be the case. He looked as if his world had just ended, as he turned away from Haldir's contemplative expression and slowly began to get dressed.

Haldir felt rather like he had at the foot of Elrond's stairs--Elbereth, was it only a week or so ago?--when he had thought his world was about to change. Why did these things always sneak up on him like this? It was becoming a bit wearing on the nerves. Stepping across the few feet that separated them, he put his arms around Gildor, who stood shivering even in the heat of the fire. "Come, gwador, would you reject me now that my half hour is up? I thought I had done a better job than that!"

"Then you still want me?" Gildor sounded very unsure, and it bothered Haldir.

Turning the reluctant elf around to face him, Haldir put a gentle but firm hand under his chin, forcing him to look up. He learned rather more from that gaze than from a hundred conversations, and he smiled to see it. "Ride back with me," he told him softly, "and I'll show you how much."

       

Elrohir was bored, very bored. He had awoken sometime after mid-day, well rested and excited at the thought of his first day as a true adult. He had no particular plans made, but ruled out a picnic as soon as he noticed the overcast sky. Oh, well, it didn't really matter what they did; as long as he was with Glorfindel, he would be happy.

Noticing that his lover was absent from their bed, he assumed he was up and about his duties, probably helping Erestor get the party mess sorted out, he thought fondly. Dressing quickly, he'd gone in search of his elusive mate. Although he encountered a number of sleepy elves, as most of the house seemed to be just starting to emerge from their chambers, Glorfindel was nowhere in sight. Everyone seemed sluggish and most appeared hung over from the night before, so that Elrohir soon found his long-anticipated day to be a serious disappointment. The only elves he saw who looked lively were that Lorien guard and Gildor, one of his father's agents, who passed him going up the stairs at a run, but they did not look inclined to stop for a bit of conversation.

He finally ran across Erestor in the upstairs corridor, who seemed somewhat more flustered than usual. "Robes, bandages, towels . . . handcuffs?," Elrohir poked about in the large basket Erestor was carrying in his chubby arms. "And what, pray tell, is this?," he inquired, genuinely curious, as he drew out a long piece of braided leather with several narrower pieces branching off from it.

"Give me that!," Erestor jerked it out of his hands and stuffed it back in the bundle, before throwing a towel over top of the whole intriguing collection. "Just tidying up some loose ends, Elrohir," he said briskly, then hurried off in the direction of the stairs. Strange . . . they were already on the top floor. Where could he be going? There was nothing up there that he knew of except a few old storage rooms. Elrohir sighed and shrugged it off, going back to his fruitless search. His first day as a genuine adult, he thought morosely, and nothing at all interesting was happening. He wished everyone around here would learn to have a little more fun . . .

Drifting outside, he found his grandmother in the final stages of leave taking. He made his farewells, rather ashamed not to even remember her presence at the party the night before; he obviously needed to cut back on the dinner wine! Luckily, Galadriel didn't seem offended, just wished him happiness and invited him to visit her soon in the Golden Wood. He liked the sound of that, and, finally catching sight of his lover emerging from the house, had a sudden vision of him spread out amongst the mallorn's golden leaves.

"I seem to be missing two of my servants," Galadriel was informing Glorfindel, while drawing on her riding gloves. "Camthalion and Elros." She lifted a delicate blond eyebrow. "You wouldn't have seen them, by any chance?"

"No, my Lady," Glorfindel replied while assisting her to mount, "but I shall endeavour to locate them and send them on to Lorien."

"See that you do." Her eyes strayed to the rooftop of the house, "and in good condition, seneschal." With no audible command, her stallion turned and, with a great leap, sped off, the party of Galadrim rushing to keep up.

"Well, now what?," Elrohir commented, turning into Glorfindel's embrace. "The party was wonderful, but I've been SO bored today. What do you think we can do about that?"

Glorfindel smiled down at him, an expression that was interrupted by a huge yawn. "Truth be told, little one, I am a bit . . . tired . . . at present."

Elrohir laughed, dragging him toward the stairs, "Oh, really, Glorfindel! You need more excitement in your life. Lucky you have me . . . all these old elves are rubbing off on you! Why, look at Ada and Antada, they even retired early from the party and yet they are still asleep! I'm not going to let you turn into an old fogey like them," he leaned up for a quick kiss, "you are much too beautiful."

To his surprise, Glorfindel lifted him into a tight embrace and spun him around, right on the front steps of Imladris, while laughing uproariously for some reason. "Yes, my dearest Elrohir, I shall strongly endeavour NOT to follow your father's example," he said, once he'd gotten himself under control. "Nonetheless," and he smiled tenderly down at his fresh-faced young lover, "I am sure we can find some way of improving your day." Arms about each other's waists, they walked up the stairs and into the house.

The End


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